Bucking the Global Trend: Africa’s Economic Growth

Europe’s economic funk continues. Japan’s aging society is struggling under a huge pile of public debt and slow GDP growth. Recovery in the United States is about what can be expected from a post-financial crisis expansionary cycle. And in China, Communist Party leaders are adjusting to much slower growth. In much of Africa, though, growth prospects are strong, if we can believe aid agencies such as the World Bank and USAID.

On April 15th, the Washington-based World Bank issued a periodic check-up on Africa’s near-term growth prospects. Partly fueled by high commodity prices – especially for energy resources and minerals – continental growth is forecasted to be more than five percent per year over the period 2013-2015. The optimistic forecast also highlights the impact of increased consumer spending in many countries south of the Sahara, including places like Ethiopia, Angola, Ghana, and Mozambique. Indeed, many sub-Saharan states have seen above-average growth rates for more than a decade, leading to some reduction in still-high poverty rates. The diffusion of mobile phones and more predictable macro-economic conditions are key factors leading to better growth prospects.

USAID and the World Bank are probably right about continued high commodity prices. Even if some of this new African wealth is squandered through corruption, better terms of trade will lift many ordinary people out of poverty. A cautionary word is in order, though. Enclave-based development – especially if it involves oil or high-value minerals – can facilitate political instability and armed conflicts. Think diamonds in Sierra Leone and Angola, numerous precious resources in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and oil in Nigeria. In short, over-reliance on mineral and energy exports can lead to so-called “rentier states” (and failed states) that do not necessarily promote broad-based human development. Careful observers of the DRC and Nigeria know about the “resource curse” all too well.

So, boosting international trade between Africa and other continents is set to grow significantly in coming years. With luck and better governance, many states will avoid the worst excesses of the resource curse.

The perennial problem of limited inter-state trade in Africa also requires urgent attention. Vast distances, colonial legacies, poor governance, and under-investment in transportation infrastructure have all contributed to high costs of trade throughout much of the continent. As USAID indicates,

Trade among African countries makes up only 10 percent of the region’s total trade volume. In East Africa, it costs 50 percent more to move freight one kilometer than it does in the United States or Europe, and in landlocked countries transport costs can be as high as 75 percent of the value of the goods they are trying to export.

Like South Asia (India and its neighbors), Africa possesses huge potential for growth in intra-regional trade and investment. This potential will only increase if Africa’s middle classes continue to swell.

The economic news out of Africa is relatively good, particularly compared to the world as a whole. Still, it is worth remembering the continent’s patchwork pattern of progress on governance, peace, and economic reforms. The overall trend is clearly positive, but recent news out of the Central African Republic (CAR), Mali, and the DRC reminds us that progress is geographically uneven.

Cityscapes from Fragile States

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

The Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, is still struggling to rebuild after a massive earthquake in January 2010. The residential areas in this photo are representative of the low-rise, crowded neighborhoods of many cities in fragile states. Photo credit: Siri B.L. (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

Urban growth in developing regions has been rapid for many decades. In some cases, major cities are doubling in population in less than a generation. It is in these places that key challenges of weak and failed states are focused. Cities like Lagos and Karachi are now among the biggest in the world. These two are among the candidates to overtake Tokyo and Mexico City as the largest on Earth.

Lagos, Nigeria Traffic

Lagos, Nigeria is infamous for its clogged roadways. One outgrowth of “go slows” is street hawkers (pictured) who weave among slow-moving vehicles. Photo credit: dolapo (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

Lagos, Nigeria Trash Dump

The “informal sector” in developing countries includes many workers who recycle materials from trash dumps and other places. Pictured is a scene from Lagos, Nigeria. Photo credit: boellstiftung (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

Karachi, Pakistan School Children

Cities of fragile states are youthful, which is a key cause of their rapid population growth. Above is a school group in Karachi, Pakistan. Photo credit: Photogeraphar 0345-3333888 (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

 

 

Corruption Kills … and Other Signs

Effective states are marked by a strong respect for the rule of law. Corruption undermines a culture of respect for the rule of law. Instead, government decisions – both big and small – are shaped by corrupt practices. Or, in the case of “grand corruption,” senior officials simply help themselves to public resources in unlawful ways. In the end, though, all states – even the most effective ones – face a perpetual struggle against graft and official thievery. The images below provide some snapshots of anti-corruption campaigns in places as diverse as Detroit, India, and Uganda.

Corruption Complaint Box in India

An ironic shot (2007) from the Indian-controlled portion of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Photo credit: watchsmart (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

"Corruption Kills" sign in Uganda

This sign from Uganda says it all. When corruption results in ineffective governance, it is indeed deadly. Photo credit: futureatlas.com (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

Anti-corruption Poster from Nigeria

What does it mean to inhabit a “corruption-free zone”? Photo credit: jbracken (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

A Protest Sticker in Detroit

Corruption is universal, as this sticker from Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. suggests. Photo credit: CAVE CANEM (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

Anti-corruption Stop Sign

A simple, but powerful statement of civil disobedience. Photo credit: Naberacka (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

Persecuted Christians

I am a Christian. And I identify and sympathize with the tens of millions of Christ followers who face intense hostility and persecution in their daily lives. During this Christmas season, I think it is appropriate to call attention to the plight of persecuted Christians, even as we recognize that those from other faiths also face indignity and repression because of their spiritual beliefs.

Lest I quickly lose all of my non-Christian readers, let us begin with some other notable examples of religious persecution in today’s world. And, given their global influence, let us focus on Muslims.

In India, the Muslim minority (approximately 15 percent of the total population) has long faced discrimination with respect to employment, housing, and construction of mosques. At times, Indian Muslims (and Christians) have endured extreme episodes of communal violence, sometimes abetted by local public officials.

In Europe, the growing Muslim community faces more subtle, but still meaningful discrimination. In particular, Europeans have a long record of placing constraints and bans on mosque construction. In many Europeans countries – past and present – Muslims are forced to worship in “garage mosques” and other concealed worship spaces due to limitations of religious freedom. And, of course, some of these same restrictions are appearing in many localities in the United States, as the Muslim population in America grows.

That said, Christians are uniquely vulnerable to global persecution. And that persecution is particularly common and forceful in parts of Africa and Asia, including in some of the weak and failed states that are frequently covered by this blog.

An excellent source of information about persecuted Christians is The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM). VOM particularly focuses on a few dozen countries that are “restricted” or “hostile” to Christianity. Restricted countries are those that have formal laws or government practices that actively repress Christians (and usually other religious groups). Hostile countries are those such as Nigeria and India, in which Christians are routinely subjected to attacks or severe discrimination despite government attempts to prevent such persecution.

Jos, Nigeria Christians

The city of Jos is part of Nigeria’s religiously volatile “Middle Belt” zone. Pictured are members of the Evangelical Church of West Africa at a groundbreaking ceremony in Jos. Photo credit: Mike Blyth (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

The politically difficult reality is that majority Muslim states compose the overwhelming majority of restricted and hostile states. And the vast majority of all majority Muslim states are “restricted.” Of the more significant majority Muslim states, Turkey, Jordan, Mali, and Indonesia are merely “hostile” environments, according to VOM. (The other key restricted states are China, North Korea, Burma, Vietnam, and Cuba.)

I am a Christian. But it is my divinely-given responsibility to seek peace with all people, including Muslims. It is also a fact that Muslim majority countries are some of the most difficult places for Christians in today’s world. During this Christmas season, Christians in safe environments would do well to not forget those in persistently difficult places.

Critically Weak and Failed States are the Last Holdouts on Polio Eradication

Immunization Campaign in India

India exceeded the expecations of many in its anti-polio campaign. The efforts of local groups, such as the Rotary Club of Nagpur (pictured) are part of the story. Photo credit: Rotary Club of Nagpur, India (Creative Commons license).

In the West, the news media tends to spotlight terrorism risks emanating from failed states, to the exclusion of other important threats. As I discuss in my book Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses, state failure is not necessarily linked with terrorist activities, and especially globally significant terrorism. One theme of state failure that deserves more attention is public health. And recent information about polio is a prime example of the key link between state decay and global health threats.

Only three states in the world still have endemic polio. The last holdouts are Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. All three are familiar names to readers of this blog. And the lingering problem of polio strikes a strong chord with me because I have seen the victims of polio-related paralysis first-hand in Nigeria.

These weak and failed state holdouts are remarkable when compared with the global progress on polio eradication. Much has been accomplished since the 1988 launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). Here I quote from the World Health Organization:

Overall, since the GPEI was launched, the number of cases has fallen by over 99% . . . In 1994, the WHO Region of the Americas was certified polio-free, followed by the WHO Western Pacific Region in 2000 and the WHO European Region in June 2002 . . . More than 10 million people are today walking, who would otherwise have been paralysed. An estimated more than 1.5 million childhood deaths have been prevented . . .

The situation in Pakistan is particularly troublesome, given that polio vaccination rates have declined in Balochistan and other regions bordering Afghanistan over the last decade. In Nigeria, cultural resistance to vaccination has been party of the story.

Polio Immunization Campaign in Namibia

Photo credit: coda (Creative Commons license).

Lingering pockets of endemic polio remain a global threat. The World Health Organization warns that these last remaining strongholds could lead to widespread public health problems in much of the world. As WHO’s October 2012 fact sheet states, “Failure to stop polio in these last remaining areas could result in as many as 200,000 new cases every year, within 10 years, all over the world.”

Dreams of Nigeria

Followers of this blog will know that I spent significant time in Nigeria around the turn of the millennium. Today I am sharing a few pictures from my travels. The pictures are from throughout Nigeria, from Yorubaland in the Southwest, Abuja, and Yankari National Park (Bauchi State). I hope to share more later.

baobab tree

savanna landscape

Savanna is the dominant natural environment in Sub-Saharan Africa.

419 sign in Nigeria

If you’d like a deeper discussion of “419 fraud” in Nigeria, see Andrew Apter’s piece, “IBB=419: Nigerian Democracy and the Politics of Illusion” (see link below to the full-text book chapter).

University of Ibadan LibraryIbadan, Nigeria

peugots in Nigeria

Does Nigeria still have so many Peugot wagons?

You can read more about my experiences in Nigeria in the first chapter of the book Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses. A free sample, which includes several Nigerian stories, is available here.

* Reading recommendation: Andrew Apter’s IBB=419: Nigerian Democracy and the Politics of Illusion.

Book Launch – Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses

The book Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses by Brennan Kraxberger has just been published. The book is currently available through Amazon, and will be available via other distributors later this week. For more information – including an expanded free sample (with table of contents and index) – click here. The ebook version’s price is $4.99 (U.S. dollars). If you are a reviewer or a college instructor, please contact the author for a complimentary copy.